By Eleni P. Austin
Back at the turn of the last century, vocalist Thomas Mars, guitarists Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz and bassist Deck D’Arcy formed the band Phoenix in Paris, France.
As a garage band, Phoenix cut their teeth covering songs by Hank Williams, Sr. and Prince. Soon they began composing their own music. By 2000, they released their debut, United.
With their sophomore effort, 2004’s Alphabetical, the band began to achieve some critical acclaim.  Songs like “Everything Is Everything” and “Run Run Run” went into heavy rotation on taste-making  L.A. radio station,  KCRW.
Phoenix quickly followed up with a live  recording, LIVE! Thirty Days Ago, in 2005 and their third release, It’s Never Been Like That, in 2006.
But it was their fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, that completely upped the ante for Phoenix. Wolfgang.. was an immaculate distillation of Pure Pop sensation and sophisticated songcraft.
Suddenly the band was topping the charts, playing festivals like Bonaroo and Coachella. The icing on their very popular cake was a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album in 2010.
It has taken nearly four years to craft a follow-up to Wolfgang… The new album, Bankrupt! comes on the heels of Phoenix’s  headlining Saturday sets at this year’s Coachella.
The album opens with the first single,  “Entertainment.” A decidedly 80s effort, the tune is anchored by a galloping beat, translucent falsetto harmonies and “Turning Japanese” synth stylings.  The lyrics offer a reductive take teenage romance.
The critical and commercial success of Wolfgang.. raised the band’s profile and allowed them to travel in more rarefied circles.  (Thomas Mars has partnered with Academy Award nominated director Sofia Coppola and they have a child together.)Three songs on Bankrupt! reflect their new, superficial environs.
“S.O.S.   In  Bel  Air” is a scathing commentary on  the vapid Kardashian culture  in Hollywood… “When idols are boredom to everyone.” The instrumentation combines belchy electronic percussion and rapid fire guitar riffs.
The band’s contempt is displayed in a more subversive manner on “Trying To Be Cool.” The lyrics combine nonsequiturs like “Mint Julep testosterone” and “Two dozen pink and white Ranunculus.” The instrumentation layers  plinky synth figures, skittery  guitars and click track percussion that echoes 80s bands  like ABC and Talk Talk.
Finally, “Drakkar  Noir” is pretty irresistible.  Name checking the ubiquitous cologne as a symbol of mediocrity, the track is both spacious and playful. “Kick Out The Jams” guitar licks collide with Casio keyboards mimicking lush Harpsichord runs.
A couple of songs, “The Real Thing” and “Bourgeois,´slow the proceedings a bit. The former is a melancholy tone poem, musing on the missed romantic connection between doomed lovers “Lancelot and Salome.”
The latter is also a wistful meditation on amour gone sour.   Cloaked in a sweeping melody (that could be played over the end credits of a mawkish John Hughes film), the tune is replete with sha-la-la sad choruses and corrosive guitar riffs.
The best track here is “Chloroform.”  Powered by stuttery  “Fly Like An Eagle” synth lines,  The subtle rhythm locks into a hypnotic groove.  The lyrics depict a sideways seduction gone horribly awry.  Mars insists …. “My love is cruel.”  Suddenly the whole arrangement down shifts, introducing  warm acoustic instruments for a sweet coda.
Other stand out tracks include the jittery “Don’t” and the title cut. Bankrupt! plays out like an extended suite. The intro has synths burbling and gurgling for nearly four minutes before Mars weighs in on monogamy…  “Forever is for everyone else.” The album closes with the frenetic Disco apocalypse of “Oblique City.”
Bankrupt! was produced by  longtime co-hort (and Cassius member,) Phillipe Zdar. Zdar  is sometimes referred to as the “French Phil Spector” and the comparison is apropos, his attention to detail is evident.
The band even purchased  (on ebay, for $17,000) the same console Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones used on Thriller.  The goal was to replicate the same warm  and intimate vibe of that epochal album.
While Wolfgang… was light and airy,  Bankrupt! is more dense and experimental.   The album  benefits from repeated listening.  Ultimately a worthy addition to the Phoenix discography.

Next articleLa Vie en Rosé